Monday, March 12, 2018

2018 Caldecott Winner & Honor Books

As I've said before, I don't really spend any time speculating on what books will be recognized by the Caldecott committee because we are never on the same wavelength. Since 90% of my job is doing outreach storytimes (I did about 500 last year, and will do even more this year), I am looking for highly engaging and interactive books that will work well in storytime, so the kind of books the committee recognizes generally don't even register on my radar. So it was no surprise that I wasn't very familiar with most of these.

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell was the medal winner.

This is a nearly wordless picture book about a girl and a wolf pup who are both lost in a snow storm. The girl helps the wolf pup back to his pack, then the pack helps the girl back to her family.

This is very cute, though it bugs me that the little girl just looks like a red triangle, and would be a good one-on-one shared read, letting the child tell the story from the pictures. Some say they've used it successfully in storytime, but I personally find these kinds of books rather awkward to use. It's okay, but as usual, I'm not blown away by it.

Crown by Derrick D. Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James is one Caldecott honor book that actually had caught my attention before the awards because of the eye-catching cover and the use of something as everyday as a haircut to portray cultural diversity, and encourage positive self-image. I really like this book, both the text and the illustrations, but I'm not quite sure who it's real audience is. 

I certainly wouldn't use it in my preschool storytimes because of the amount of text and I don't think it would be as meaningful at that age. I think older elementary kids would appreciate the subject matter more, but might feel a picture book is "too babyish". If you've used this book, please tell me about your audience and how it was received in the comments!

Grand Canyon by Jason Chin is a beautiful non-fiction book full of information and scenic landscapes. 

While I personally liked this book, again, I'm not sure that it will find an audience. It has way too much text and advanced information for kids that typically like picture books, and older kids would probably prefer photographs to paintings or drawings. This reminds me of Locomotive, a Caldecott winner from a few years ago, that several patrons reported their kids just had no interest in.

I'm afraid this is a very niche book that will not circulate much, after all the librarians and teachers had looked at it following the awards announcements.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui was inspired by the author's early morning fishing trips with his father. It is a simple story that alludes to so much more, and is illustrated in graphic-novel style, though there are fewer panels and many full-page illustrations. Both the author and illustrator immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam with their families as children.

Like most Caldecott books, this one seems intended for an older audience, perhaps K-3rd grade. While I like the illustrations overall, I think the illustration chosen for the cover is too dark and the characters and title too small, to be very appealing or attention-getting. I have discovered that kids, particularly the younger ones, equate dark covers with being scary, even when they are just depicting nighttime, or early morning in this case.

Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper is probably the one that disappointed me the most, and here's why.

As I started looking through it, I really liked it, being a cat person myself and having had a similar situation where the new kitten ended up growing up to be bigger than the older cat. It was such a simple, but cute and charming story, watching the kitten grow up, and the cats becoming best friends (though mine never really did) and doing everything together. 

I got excited at the small amount of simple text, simple illustrations, and cute story, thinking this would be the rare Caldecott book I could actually use in storytime! Until I got to this spread, that is:

(Click to enlarge)

What?!? The older cat leaves and never comes back? Now, unlike some of my co-workers, I never get emotional reading picture books. Novels always make me cry, but not picture books. But having had to euthanize my cat just over a year ago, and another one 4 years ago that was THE best cat I've ever had, this got to me and made me tear up 😭.

While I know others have said they used this in storytime, there is NO way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks I am ever using it in storytime. Though I think I could control my emotions, there is no way I'm going to attempt to answer all the questions it would prompt: "Where did the big cat go?", "Why can't he come back?", "What happens when you die?", "Why?"..... Plus I do outreach in daycares, so no parents to help answer the questions consistent with their beliefs. Nope, not touching that with a 10-foot pole!

BUT, this would be a wonderful book to help a child prepare for the loss of an aging pet, or cope afterward, as well as gently introducing death in general, along with Ida, Always, a beautiful picture book inspired by a true story that gently portrays death following a long illness.

So, my impression this year is pretty much the same as every year. Yes, I can see these have either impressive art work, or art that tells the story on it's own, but I will not be able to use any of these in storytime, and I question how much appeal most will actually have to children. On the other hand, I think Big Cat, Little Cat would appeal to kids, but I feel for the parents who might be in the uncomfortable position of answering questions they aren't prepared for if they don't know where the story goes.

What did you think of this year's slate of Caldecott honorees? Any that you think got snubbed that should have been recognized? Have you actually used any of these with children? 

Please leave a comment and tell me your opinion and experience!

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